Holden Captiva SUV Lemon Alert: Don't Buy

Don’t buy a Holden Captiva. It’s the worst mainstream family SUV money can buy, and the latest evidence - two shiny, new bricks for the Captiva shitbox memorial wall - is just in

Seriously - you couldn't make this up. Digitally remastered. Move over, possessed Buick 8; hello malevolent South Korean SUV...

Seriously - you couldn't make this up. Digitally remastered. Move over, possessed Buick 8; hello malevolent South Korean SUV...

Almost 3000 Holden Captiva SUVs are being officially recalled in Australia because the vehicle could spontaneousy jump forward and potentially crush you. I couldn’t make this up. It’s the way they design cars in hell. This - let’s be euphemistic - this problem happens, potentially, if the key is left in the ignition. Stephen King wrote a book about a malicious car just like that, way back in 1983. It was called Christine.

Captiva: It's Got a Crush on You...

Basically, a little piece of Christine has possessed 3000 Captivas, and it means a defect in the Captiva’s ignition switch might cause the engine to crank without warning. If the key are in it, if vehicle is in gear and if the parking brake isn’t applied with the grip of 10 Tarzans, that defect could cause the vehicle to jump forward. Dad news for you, potentially, if you’re walking in front of it at the time, especially if you’re between an unyielding object and the vehicle. Think about all those kids, innocently playing in the garage. It’s a crush hazard. And it’s disgraceful. I hate half-baked engineering, which is one of General Motors’ - and therefore Holden’s - strengths.

But Wait, There's More

Funny story: I'm sitting here in the edit suite cutting the video report that goes with this story. Getting the graphics together. I'm taking screen grabs of the official Holden Captiva recalls. Another one just pops up - within 24 hours of shooting the report. Like, you're kidding, right? This time for a faulty fuel pump flow control module - and OK, only six Captivas are affected, so not a big deal (except if you're one of the owners). It could cause the vehicle to lose power spontaneously thanks to a resulting electrical short ... and it could be Melissa Ryan all over again. (Thirty-two-year-old Melissa Ryan was killed in January 2011 when her Volkswagen Golf suddenly lost power on a Freeway in Melbourne, Australia. She was rear-ended by a truck as a result, with the driver subsequently testifying at a coronial inquest that the VW stopped suddenly without brake lights. Hundreds of other Volkswagen owners came out of the woodwork as a result, reporting similar power-loss incidents. It's hard to tell which brand - Volkswagen or Holden - is more reprehensible unreliable.) 

This 'lurch forward' recall is the latest independent evidence that the Captiva remains one of the worst shitbox SUVs on Australian Roads. There's quite a few more bricks in this wall, however. See below (click on each recall notice to enlarge). It's quite the 'poor quality control' litany.


Long-term Quality Fiasco

As you can see above, in the past eight years, the Captiva has been recalled for defective brakes, twice. (Brakes are so fundamental, too - accelerating is optional, but stopping is mandatory, don’t you think?) It’s also been recalled thanks to wiring defects, and the potential complete loss of steering control. (That would be interesting, too. I’ve never had that happen. But you’d remember it for a long time - if there’s an afterwards. That recall affected 13,068 vehicles.) There were also two fuel feed hose fire risk recalls (16,000-plus vehicles involved there), and a fuel filler neck fire risk recall. Catching fire is also absolutely unacceptable in a modern vehicle. Imagine having three infant children and two infirm elderly parents in your Captiva 7, and it catching fire on the freeway - and you’re the only able-bodied adult. Good luck getting everyone out in time. Owning a Captiva is almost as much fun as playing Russian roulette, when you think about it.

What you need to do if you own one of these vehicles is contact your local Holden Dealer for a free-of-charge repair. Here’s the affected VIN code range:

Vin Code KL3CG26RJ7B075395 to KL3DF26FJAB116292

You can find your VIN code - your car’s unique 17-digit vehicle identifier, like it’s sequenced DNA, on your rego papers. (KL3CG26RJ7B075395 to KL3DF26FJAB116292). The recall affects 2951 Holden Captiva 5 and Holden Captiva 7 SUVs built between February 2007 and November 2010, according to the official recall notice.

Recalls in Australia occur only for safety-related defects. They all get listed on the ACCC’s recalls website: www.recalls.gov.au. But quality-related defects (and the Captiva has had plenty of those, too, anecdotally) they get handled under the radar, in house. Paying attention to recalls is very important - especially if you’re in the market for a new car, because where there’s smoke there’s fire. And official recalls are one of the few truly independent barometers we have of whose engineering sucks, and whose does not.

Non-recall Defects

Non-safety-related problems can be incredibly frustrating, as the unsolicited e-mails below suggest. Often they are more frustrating because they involve a dispute with a dealer who is looking to profiteer from your problem, or is unhelpful, and they may also involve a dispute with Holden. Certainly neither Holden nor the dealer network seems to have a 'bend over backwards' mentality when it comes to customer service. Check these out:

Unsolicited Captiva E-mail 1

Hi John,
I was reading your review regarding Captivas and I must say you hit the nail on the head.  After multiple warranty claims I am trying desperately to get Holden to help us out without much support from Holden so far. 

They offered us a two-year extended warranty that was after nearly a full engine overhaul. 

I have requested from Holden to provide me with documentation of all warranty claims that has been made so far, however they refuse to give me a copy.

Are we entitled to documentation from a car company stating what work has been done to the car like we do for services?

Thank you,

Unsolicited Captiva E-mail 2

Hi John,
I have a 2009 Captiva with the airbag fault light constantly on (has been on for the past nine months). My Holden dealer investigated. Fault codes appeared however they were still unable to fix the problem. They told me that they would need to remove all the mouldings to expose all the wiring to find the needle in the haystack and would need the car for a whole day without any guarantees. They charged me for their initial investigation and will no doubt charge me again if I gave the car to them a second time. 

What are my rights? There is a safety factor here and surely Holden must accept some responsibility in working with me to rectify the problem, not just charge me more, even though the car is out of warranty.


Unsolicited Captiva E-mail 3

Hello John,
Thank you so much for the quick response. FANTASTIC I love the look and drive of the Santa Fe you suggested. However, I was very concerned over whether it had a diesel particle filter because we currently own a 2009 Holden Craptiva with the DPF.

It has always been properly serviced and garaged. It runs between Brisbane and the Gold Coast daily with only 100,000 kilometres on the clock and yet has constant problems with the DPF filter.

Good bye Craptiva hello Santa Fe!

Thanks again and keep up the great website it's a fantastic read.


Second-rate Engineering & Construction

Wall-to-wall recalls point to serious in-house design and manufacturing deficiencies. And, frankly, today these deficiencies constitute the foundations upon which most new Holdens are built. Look at world events: the killer ignition switch court case back in the USA, and other GM quality/defect cover-ups. 

Here in Australia, Holden set a new record last year for recalls - I can’t work out if that’s raising the bar or lowering it: probably lowering. The company issued no fewer than 14 recalls in 2014 - and six of those recalls affected more than one vehicle in the Holden lineup. Jeep - another automotive quality basket case - issued 14 recalls as well. So at least they tied for first place. (Or is that last place?)

Holden has already issued four recalls so far this year - so it’s on track for another quality shocker. The Holden Barina and Trax copped essentially the same recall as this one on Captiva, last year. So, basically, if you’re thinking about starting your own car company, based upon these recalls and world events, I wouldn’t be asking GM for any tips about designing an ignition switch. Or anything else, such as financial management, product development, or humility.

Better Alternatives

If you’re a rational SUV buyer in the market today, you’re a nut if you consider buying a Captiva - it’s just too much of a risk. If you’re in the market for a five-seat SUV, test drive a Mazda CX-5 instead. There has never been a CX-5 recall. Not one. CX-5 also objectively out-points the Captiva 5 in just about every other respect. If you need seven seats, check the Hyundai Santa Fe. The current shape was released in August 2012. No recalls there - at least, not yet. The Hyundai Santa Fe murders the Captiva 7 against the vast majority of objective criteria as well. It’s impossible to prosecute the positive case for Captiva.


Latest Mazda CX-5 Reports


Latest Hyundai Santa Fe Reports


Third-rate quality is a complete deal breaker for real car buyers. It’s no fun to trot back to the dealer for the classic service department brush-off, 15 times. It’s no fun to have had your Captiva in the workshop for longer than it’s been on the road. Enthusiasts can put on a Holden cap any time, and no doubt reach for the personal lubricant, but there’s nothing worse than buying - and being stuck with - a complete lemon. And there’s not nearly enough legislation to protect you in Australia if that happens - we’re certainly not the USA when it comes to lemon laws. If you’re thinking about buying a Holden Captiva - swim towards the light instead. Test drive that CX-5 or Santa Fe: you won’t be disappointed. If you’re a masochist, and you want your own little piece of Stephen King’s Christine … I’m not going to stop you. Enjoy. If that’s the right word.

If you’re in the market for an SUV, send me a message It’s easy to save thousands off the manufacturer’s drive-away price on any car. (But put down the credit card, slowly, and step away from the Captiva. Do it now. Don't make me taser you...) And don’t believe for a second that BS car dealers spin in relation to the whole affair. There are still significant savings to be made if you level the playing field. Ask me how.